Proving Kinship in NYC

Richard, a Kings County resident, died three years ago without a will.  At the time of his death, Richard had no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, or nieces or nephews.   The Kings County Public Administrator learned about Richard’s death through Richard’s friend and searched the records of the Kings County Surrogate’s Court.  The Kings County Public Administrator was ultimately appointed administrator of Richard’s estate. As Administrator, the Public Administrator marshaled Richard’s assets and paid his last debts.  While conducting due diligence to find Richard’s next of kin, the Public Administrator discovered that Richard was survived only by first cousins. The Public Administrator prepared and filed an accounting and served a citation in connection with that accounting on the found first cousins. Four of Richard’s first cousins came forward to claim an interest in Richard’s estate.  They are now interested in proving kinship in NYC. That is, they have to prove that they are in fact Richard’s next of kin. What should the cousins do to prove that they are Richard’s next of kin and are, therefore, entitled to share in his estate?

Understanding the purpose of Proving Kinship in NYC.

Kinship proceedings are proceedings in which evidence must be presented to prove that the individuals who claim to be the Decedent’s next of kin are in fact the Decedent’s next of kin and are therefore entitled, above anyone else, to inherit from the Decedent.  These proceedings often occur where the Decedent did not have a will and the individuals that claim to be the Decedent’s next of kin are remote relatives of the Decedent, such as the Decedent’s nieces and nephews, first cousins or first cousins, once removed. These claimants must show that all of the Decedent’s closer relatives have already passed away. Although it is recommended that you engage the services of a NYC Kinship Attorney,  below, we provide tips for finding the documents and information needed to create the Decedent’s full family tree and show that you are the Decedent’s next of kin entitled to inherit from the Decedent’s estate.

Next of kin must produce certified birth certificates for all of the Decedent’s relatives and  certified death certificates for those family members on who are deceased. Please note that an individual needs only produce the records for those relatives on the same side of lineage. For example, a maternal first cousin only needs to produce records for the Decedent’s other maternal relatives.  Certified marriage certificates may also be required in certain circumstances.

How to Start Proving Kinship in NYC

Before you start gathering documents to prove kinship in NYC, start by preparing a family tree with information that you currently know about all of the decedent’s family members, including the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, siblings, descendants of siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, first cousins, and first cousins, once removed.  

In the family tree, be sure to provide the full names of all of the relatives, along with the dates of birth, places of birth, and either dates of death and places of death for the deceased family members or addresses and phone numbers for the surviving family members.  Create spots on the tree for all individuals, including those individuals whose information you do not know.

Search Your Files while Proving Kinship in NYC

Once you are done writing down the information that you do know, it is time to start gathering the documents that will help you prove that you are the Decedent’s next of kin.  Begin by looking through your own records. Look your birth records, baptism records, hospital records, plain and train tickets, and any other documents you can gather.

If you find any additional information or documents, add that information to your family tree and keep the documents in a safe space.

Contact the Decedent’s Friends and any of the Decedent’s Relatives that you Know.

Proving Kinship in NYC requires that you talk to the relatives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers of the decedent and see if they have any documents or information or if they can easily obtain such documents and information for you. 

Proving Kinship in NYC may require that You Order documents from Government Agencies

For those relatives who resided in New York City at the time of their birth or death, birth or death certificates can be obtained from the Vital Records Department of the New York City Department of Health. For those relatives who died in New York State outside of New York City, records can be obtained from the Vital Records Department of the New York State Department of Health.  

Please note that certain remote relatives, like first cousins, must first obtain a court-ordered subpoena from the Surrogate’s Court before they can obtain records from these agencies.  Once the court-ordered subpoena is issued, it should be sent to the agency or agencies that will be running the search for and producing the records.

The agencies must comply with the court-ordered subpoena.  They will run their search and produce the records they find.  If they do not find records in connection with any of the relatives whose names are included in the court-ordered subpoena, the agencies will provide a document showing that they ran the search but were unable to find any records.

If any relatives were born or died outside of New York State, you will need to find the appropriate agency to contact and research the requirements for obtaining documents from those agencies.

Redirecting your Search if you are still Missing Documents.

If the City and/or State was unable to produce records in connection with any of the Decedent’s relatives, the next step would be to start searching for secondary forms of proof, such as baptism records,  death indices, and probate or administration petitions.

Searching the Court Records for Probate or Administration Files.

If the City or State failed to produce any records, a good place to start searching for secondary forms is the Courts.  For those relatives who died in New York, you may find probate or administration files at the Surrogate’s Court of the County in which the Decedent was domiciled at his or her date of death. For example, if you do not have your uncle’s documents but you know that he lived in Kings County at the time of his death and that there was an an administration or probate proceeding commenced there, you can travel to the Kings County Surrogate’s Court and review his file.  

If you find documents that show the deceased relatives date of death or any other relevant information, you should order certified copies of them from the court.  There is a fee for printing documents with the Surrogate’s Court. Generally, the Surrogate’s Courts charge $6 to certify a document and an additional $6 per printed page.

If you do not find important documents (e.g., the individual’s death certificate), you may find other helpful information, such as the dates and places of death, names, and contact information of other family members, as well as needed documents.  (For example, if your aunt predeceased your uncle, there might be an Affidavit of Heirship in your uncle’s file with your aunt’s date of death stated in it.)

If relatives died in a county that is difficult to travel to, call the chief clerk of that county’s Surrogate’s Court and order certified copies of that relative’s file.  Courts usually charge a fee to mail copies of any documents to you.

If the court is unable to send certain documents, such as the relative’s death certificate, ask the chief clerk to wright a letter confirming that the information provided in the death certificate matches that of the relative (e.g., date of death, parents’ names).

Run an Online Search

If you are still missing information or documents, there are many websites that allow you to run people searches, including Ancestry.com, Google, and Pipl.com.  These searches may provide you with helpful current information and possibly even documents. You can use Ancestry.com to find birth, death, and census indices for the decedent’s relatives whose documents you are missing.  While these are not certified documents, some courts will accept them as sufficient evidence.

We routinely assist with proving kinship in NYC and can assist you in obtaining the necessary documents and appearing on your behalf at kinship hearings.

For more information, please contact probate and estate planning attorney Regina Kiperman:
Phone: 917-261-4514
Email: rkiperman@rklawny.com
Or visit her at her location:
80 Maiden Lane
Suite 304
New York, NY 10038

Visit Regina on Google+

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